In recent years, the world has watched in horror as extremists and terrorists have committed acts of violence in houses of worship — the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh; the Christchurch mosque in New Zealand; and a chabad in Poway, Calif.
This climate of hatred, which infringes on parishioners’ right to practice their faith openly and safely, is unprecedented, said Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker, a Democrat from Plainview. It’s also the motivation behind his new bill.
Drucker recently submitted legislation to amend the Nassau County Administrative Code that would require the Police Department to increase patrols at places of worship countywide. The department’s duties would include concentrating “police resources . . . to prioritize the protection of houses of worship and religious institutions.”
“Our Constitution affords us the right of freedom of religion, and when that’s at risk, it triggers a tremendous outpouring of fear and anxiety,” Drucker said. “We never thought we’d live in a day when we’re concerned about going into synagogues, churches and mosques. It’s unheard of, but it can happen right here in Nassau County.”
The bill was filed with the county clerk last week, and has yet to be assigned a committee. It is too early to tell when it would come before the Legislature for a vote.
Legislator Josh Lafazan, an Independent from Woodbury, said he supported Drucker’s bill. Lafazan is Jewish, and when he goes to temple in his legislative district, he said, there is “absolute concern” about safety, not just among Jewish faith leaders, but also among congregants.
Drucker said he believed that increasing the police presence near places of worship would deter someone “bent on causing a major atrocity” from committing an act of intolerance, be it a shooting, an assault, harassment or vandalism. The bill would also provide protection for religious facilities, such as cemeteries and educational institutions, to prevent vandalism and desecration (see box).
While police departments are “tremendous” at responding to emergencies, Drucker said, his bill would reinforce protection at places of worship as a priority, and demonstrate to police officers that “this is something they need to pay particular attention to.”
The bill would not bind local municipalities with their own police forces, such as the cities of Glen Cove and Long Beach and the villages of Rockville Centre and Freeport. Drucker said he was optimistic, however, that those departments would follow the county’s lead and work together to increase patrols.
“The Nassau County Police Department has intensified and increased patrols around all houses of worship to protect all and will continue to do so,” Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder wrote in an email to the Herald Gazette. “In addition, the NCPD Intelligence Unit continues to work with federal, state and local authorities.”
Drucker said he also believed that increasing the police presence at places of worship would give parishioners peace of mind. Rabbi Irwin Huberman, of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Glen Cove, said the bill was especially important for places of worship that cannot afford to hire security guards.
“Many synagogues and churches do not have funds for full-time security, so this would be helpful,” Huberman said, adding that CTI hired guards to monitor services after the Tree of Life shooting last October. “Since Pittsburgh, we have to take a second look at anyone who enters our house of worship,” he said, “to make sure those that enter have only the best intentions.”
Security provided by police may be the new normal.
“The underpinnings of a free society is you will be free to practice your faith, and others will be tolerant of the faith you practice,” Lafazan said. “Living in a time period where people question their own security for simply practicing their faith is categorically unacceptable. This legislation is about sending a message to every Nassau County resident that regardless of which faith you practice, you will be safe to worship within our county.”